* This List was originally published back in August 2011*
Since the DC Universe will be re-launched in just a few weeks (sob…), I thought now would be the perfect time to compile a list of the Top Ten Most Amazingly Badass Batman Moments. In order to really celebrate and perhaps even say goodbye to the “current” continuity we all know and love, I’ll only be utilizing the modern age of Batman which I grew up with to pull the moments on this list from.
What that means is that I’m using Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) as a starting point and ending with Grant Morrison’s R.I.P./Return (2010) storyline – So this list encompasses a very small fraction of the overall Batman timeline. Yes, regrettably, all the great moments from the early 80’s and before will be left out – and whatever is currently happening in Batman Inc. or Detective Comics, etc. will also be absent from this list. Also – it has to be Bruce under the cowl for the moment to count. Sorry Dick, you were great, really you were – but you’re simply not The Goddamned Batman. Otherwise, anything is eligible for inclusion: one shots, out of canon stories and Elseworlds tales.
With the qualifying factors out of the way, let’s do a quick refresher; a run-down of sorts, and list some of Batman’s main attributes and skills. These will be important to keep in mind when considering all the numerous ways in which “Batman being a badass” could be defined. The entries on this top-ten list should be seen as reflecting my personal favorite moments which exemplify some or all of the qualities mentioned below:
Reasons Batman is probably a total badass:
- He is a polymath, concurrently possessing a genius-level intellect in a large variety of sciences and disciplines.
- He is the world’s greatest detective (beyond the brilliant observational and inductive/deductive reasoning he possesses, he is also a world-class forensic scientist)
- He is a master escape artist
- He is one of the most accomplished martial artists in the world (his is also considered one of the greatest strategists and tacticians in the world)
- He is a master of disguise
- Through intense and constant training and self-discipline his strength, speed, stamina, agility, reflexes, and coordination are at the peak of human potential.
With that out of the way, let’s not waste any more time, onward to the pretty pictures:
One of the greatest Elseworlds tales I’ve ever read. First of all, we have Bruce Wayne who is now known openly to be The Batman; he no longer bothers with a secret identity. He walks around sans cape and cowl and nearly everyone refers to him as “The Batman”
Now, to start, how badass is that back/neck/arm brace contraption he wears? It has some crazy Darth Vader vibe to it and I love it.
It manages to convey, through the visual alone, that Batman continued pushing his body to the limits until it very literally gave out on him; his will far exceeded his physiology… we’re then left to fill in the blanks… did his physical disintegration give him pause, set him back, knock him down? Hell no, he just puts a brace on and keeps right on being The Batman. Speaking of going right on, he still works in the Batcave, which is now located under the burned down remains of Wayne Manor. Future, Elseworlds-Batman does not give a shit anymore; he is entirely focused on the true personality that consumed his “normal” life so many decades ago. To supplant his lack of youthful mobility he even runs a very Batman Inc.-like operation in this story
This is a world where the Joker has killed most of the staff of the Daily Planet, including Lois Lane… this is a world where Superman retired and thus caused the entire superhero community to fracture and fall into misguided ruin. This is a dark world – and apropos of that, The Batman still comes out on top; in control and out-thinking everyone around him, making plans for the eventualities that no one else sees.
Not only does he infiltrate Lex Luthor’s “Mankind Liberation Front” because he knows Luthor has brainwashed Billy Batson, a.k.a, Captain Marvel – but he clocks Batson right in the damn face, in front of everyone, calls Luthor out and almost single-handily destroys his evil plot.
That’s a great warm up for the real meat of the story here, yeah, that’s right, old, crippled Batman isn’t done showing people he still has his shit together.
You see, Captain Marvel escapes, and still under the sway of Luthor’s brainwashing, puts events into action that could conceivable lead to the end of the world. What does Batman do? He shows up in the nick of time, decked out in a sweet, robotic Batsuit – with plenty of back up in tow to turn the tide of a raging battle. He then argues with Wonder Woman to convince her of what he has already figured out and planned for, thus being the one who really saves the frickin’ world, all because he still is one of the only people who sees the big picture, who thinks and plans for every eventuality.
All that and then he orders a steak from a teenager dressed up like Robin in a superhero theme restaurant where the special of the day is the Power Girl chicken sandwich – “the cut?” Bruce asks, why, the breast, of course! Wow. Thank you, Mark Waid… thank you.
Batman and the Mad Monk (2006)
The two solo Batman stories that Matt Wagner wrote under the “Dark Moon Rising” moniker, Batman and the Mad Monk and Batman and the Monster Men are both fantastic, focusing on the early, initial struggles which The Batman faced while developing his unique art of crime fighting. These stories lean pretty equally on his detective skills, his fighting skills and his early experiments in creating gadgets to aid his war. They are meant to fall within the continuity directly after Year One and before the Joker proper makes his first appearance in The Man Who Laughs. These stories precede the regular rogues gallery of Batman “super villains” and take place well before Batman becomes a big, world-wide superhero who rubs shoulders with gods.
Picking one moment from these books was difficult, but here it is:
That’s right, The Batman fist-fights a couple of wolves, then picks one up and slams it against the wall repeatedly until he breaks its spine. Oh, and did you notice that this is not only after he has been bitten by one of the wolves, but also sucked in some of his own knock-out gas? Sorry for the animal rights activists out there, but come on, this is fiction; a throwback to the campy, serial-like, horror-stylings of the original story (it’s a re-telling of 1939’s Batman Versus the Vampire). So don’t be too upset, this is supposed to be fun. Plus, the real point here is that he had to do it – before he kills the poor creature he even laments, “No choice” – The Batman doesn’t capriciously kill the wolf, he just knew he had to. That’s the epitome of what makes The Batman a badass; being able to do what needs to be done, short of taking a human life, even if it isn’t pretty.
(buy Batman and the Mad Monk on Amazon)
The Man Who Laughs (2005)
This picks up right where Batman and the Mad Monk ends; Batman is on his was to investigate a call about a bunch of dead bodies in a warehouse, all wearing distorted grins and seemingly poisoned. This is, of course, the first appearance of the Joker in the ‘updated’ chronology.
This is a nice, tight and concise little story that is actually made better by being ret-conned into this newly updated continuity, simply because Bruce/Batman is still, essentially, a novice (albeit bringing his experiences from Year One, Mad Monk, et. al along with him as preparation) – and as such is really put to the test in his first encounter with the man who will become his greatest foe.
He is unsure and fledgling here, just as I like my “early” Bats stories and we’re not quite sure if he is up to the task of trying to control and make sense of the senseless plans devised by The Joker.
My favorite part of the story though? Well it would have to be when young, inexperienced Bruce Wayne decides that in order to obfuscate the fact that he is Batman and Bruce Wayne – he allows The Joker to poison one of his targets – who just happens to be BRUCE WAYNE. Yep. He takes the joker venom with no plan other than trying to fight it and hope that the antidote he created works after Alfred administers it to him. He takes a huge gamble by doing this and when it starts to kick in it’s pretty obvious that he made a huge mistake.
Still, the bravery and willpower the character is written with here, by putting his own life on the line in order to have a chance to save other lives, is astoundingly badass. This is also what I presume to be The Batman’s first time ingesting designer drugs/poisons created by super villains, which will of course become an alarmingly frequent occurrence for him from here on out.
(buy The Man Who Laughs on Amazon)
“JLA/Avengers” crossover (2003)
The best hand to hand fighter in the DC universe versus the best from the Marvel universe. And how does it turn out? Total. Draw.
The JLA/Avengers crossover was pretty good, not great in my humble opinion, but still worth a read. However, the fight between Bats and Cap is worth the price of admission alone. It’s a brutally poetic piece of stale-mate choreography between two incredible brawlers at the top of their respective games.
The Long Halloween (1997)
This is the black sheep of the list; it doesn’t really fit into any of the criteria explained above, yet it still is a perfect example of the wonderfully complex and ever-surprising character that is the Batman. Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween is definitely one of the greatest and most complex Batman stories ever told; but it can be easily summed up for the unfamiliar by saying that it is basically Batman as written by Mario Puzo.
Now, since this story contains the Loeb trademark of having every conceivable villain from Batman’s rogues gallery make an appearance and give Bats the opportunity to punch them a few times – you’d think the most badass moment from the book would involve some teeth being forcefully removed from a mouth… but it isn’t. In fact, my choice for the most badass Batman moment from this book may surprise you:
That’s Batman, returning to the sewer where Solomon Grundy pretty well kicked his ass earlier, to deliver him Thanksgiving dinner. Batman empathizes with the poor, zombified brute; he knows that he is simply a victim of his circumstances; an idiotic muscle that the truly bad people flex and use with no real concern or compassion for Grundy at all. Batman shows his true colors here and in a book full of great showdowns with every major villain, this one, simple, non-violent gesture still gets me every time. Sure, he’d still go toe to toe with Grundy any day, but he’ll also feed the unfortunate soul, he’ll gladly give him a slight respite from the rats, just because he can.
(buy The Long Halloween on Amazon)
“The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Guhl” (2007)
What’s more badass than defeating Ra’s al Guhl? How about defeating the man Ra’s fears most: his father. After dispatching Ra’s without any trouble whatsoever, his father, known simply as “Sensei”, then takes on Bats. He breaks his arm, beats the living hell out of him, shatters the damn lenses out of his cowl, then impales him with his staff – all in less than a minute; Sensei brags about how, since he’s old, he can only keep his current pace up for about two minutes, but thankfully he only needs one to break The Batman. Bad move; don’t brag to The Batman about how badly you’re defeating him, this only pisses him off. What happens then?
Yep. Batman comes back, full force, pulls the staff out of his own body, beats the Sensei with it and when asked what it is he thinks he’s doing, Batman volleys back with the badass line of “Lasting longer than a minute” before defeating him completely by knocking him into the Fountain of Life, which works against Sensei for being such an impure soul; an assoul (Yes, I just made that word up, Asshole+soul= assoul).
(buy The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Guhl on Amazon)
JLA issues #1 through #4 “New World Order” (1997)
The “Hyperclan” (white martians) attack the JLA – they manage to “kill” or otherwise incapacitate all of its members – yes, even Superman. They shoot down the Batplane and, knowing the Batman is merely a human being, decide to simply assume he died in the crash. Big mistake, because of course The Goddamned Batman survives the crash – not only does he survive the crash, but the very act of crashing is enough for him, the world’s greatest detective, to deduce exactly how to defeat the white martians. From there Batman begins stalking through their compound, even leaving a threatening note about how he “knows their secret” until he finally proceeds to take down most of the miserable SOB’s with a can of gas and a match.
Yes, that’s right Supermulletman, you tell them:
He is the “most dangerous man on Earth”!
(buy New World Order on Amazon)
Batman issues #404 to #407 “Batman: Year One” (1987)
Arguably, the greatest Batman story ever written and certainly one of the most influential, Frank Miller’s ‘Year One’ arc managed to update and modernize the Batman origin story without altering anything too significant. This is the first Batman story I ever remember really reading – My transition from buying comics and simply ogling the art, to buying comics to read them began with Year One. My young mind was blown – Catwoman was a whore! Batman messed up a lot when he was first starting out! Miller’s story humanized the character I’d been “reading” since I could read and I suddenly realized there was a character there, not just the broad strokes personifying Bruce Wayne/Batman – there was a veracity to this personality and his world that I had never noticed before (I’m not saying it wasn’t there, just that I had never picked up on it before) – Batman (and actually, all of my favorite heroes then) was just an image to me; a good guy beating up bad guys. I never considered any sort of motivation, gravitas or psychology beyond the, basically generic, “his parents were murdered” motivation… I never really even considered him much of a personality, I simply saw him as a symbol, an “any man” in a bat costume.
Miller changed my comic world – and thank fuck he did, because even going back now, purposefully trying to disregard my youthful nostalgia, the book still holds up remarkably well. This is a great story and probably deserves a special mention on this list for also including the single most badass Jim Gordon scene I’ve ever witnessed.
I mean, he tosses Flass the goddamned bat, man… he gives him a handicap and then hands him his ass. I left this book knowing that Gordon was a total badass, something I had never even considered before.
But I digress – to get back on topic, my favorite Batman moment from this book comes before Bruce even dons the cowl for the first time:
Bruce Wayne, in disguise, on his first real night out, making a mess of things… yet still just barely pulling it together when it is all down to the wire. The desperation from the famous scene in his study which follows is completely sold because of the sequence above. Great, great stuff.
The scene were Batman interrupts the gangster’s dinner meeting is also so good it makes me want to weep – but I must give the slight edge to the police car scene because of the sheer audacity of it all and the fact that it is absolutely instrumental in his evolution towards discovering who, and what, he really is.
This is the book I always recommend people read if they’ve never really read a Batman story before… it’s the skeleton, the archetype which all other books written since, owe everything to.
“The Dark Knight Returns” (1986)
Okay – so this is a tie. I had to do it… I simply cannot force myself to pick one of these moments over the other, they are both quite possibly the most badass thing The Batman has ever done… of course you know that’s not true in my personal opinion, because this is only number two on this list, but for all intents and purposes this is probably the entry that most, if not all, Bat-fans will readily agree with.
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns absolutely re-invigorated and re-invented the modern super hero comic book. So then of course it stands to reason that said book would contain a countless number of badass, character defining moments of pure revelation and joy – and it does, which is precisely why I could not narrow it down to one single event. Yet, out of all the badassery on display in the book, I did manage to narrow it down to just two moments, which I consider to be an amazing act of restraint. I couldn’t possibly lay out the entirety of each of these wonderfully long scenes, so here are just the last punches from each one: the “mudhole mutant fight” and “the one man who beat you” Bats vs. Supes fight.
Everyone who is a real Batman fan has read this book a million times so there is no need for me to explain the set-up for either of these encounters – but if by chance you haven’t read The Dark Knight Returns, then please, immediately go to you local comic shop and request a public shaming. Then buy two copies of the book.
(buy The Dark Knight Returns on Amazon)
Is there anything that can possibly top that for total and complete badassery? Yes, I believe so:
Ho-Lee-Shit. I’ve been reading Batman comics since I could read and have never – never witnessed a more amazing Batman story arc than the staggeringly beautiful and complex one that Mr. Grant Morrison has graced the world with through the Batman & Son, The Black Glove, Batman R.I.P., The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman & Robin arcs.
This glorious run is still continuing on to this day in the pages of Batman Inc. – which I highly suggest you run out and buy if you’re not already (the current volume ends in August, but will return, anew with fresh re-numbering (eye roll), in 2012). Let that also serve as a warning to the uninitiated who may think about picking this book up: This is part of a bigger story, so just reading R.I.P. by itself will not work well for you. Although I think it does stand on its own, it would definitely be confusing and impenetrable as a whole without being caught up with Morrison’s overall story up to this point (and continuing after). If you’re ready to devote some time to it – here is a list sorting it all out for you so that you know what to read and when.
Now, let’s just say it: some people cannot stand Morrison’s Batman work, considering it too labyrinthine, convoluted and ridiculous – I however am definitely not one of those people. I found this saga to be the most surprisingly layered, methodical and well written arc that I’ve ever read. There are undoubtedly moments of confusion; red-herrings and McGuffins abound, but I find them to be deliberate and measured. There are even moments of grand absurdity and high-camp in Morrison’s run which rub some the wrong way, but I found these moments to be delightful homage to the convoluted history of the character – I’ve never had more fun, while simultaneously being constantly blown away by how badass Batman is than when Morrison decided to turn some of the dopey and silly bits of history from the character’s past into a beautiful ret-conned tapestry of revisionist, long-con storytelling. It sounds confusing – and it is – especially when you’re in the thick of it, it’s incredibly complex and doesn’t fully make sense until you see the big picture – or perhaps not even until you re-read that big picture all together a few more times. Yet, once I did so, once I gave it the time it deserved, then suddenly, for me at least, it became the single greatest Batman story ever told.
I mean, if you need to read A Batman story from 1963 (Batman #156) to catch some of the references in a Batman comic released in 2010 I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a wild ride. Believe me though – it goes much deeper than that, the whole thing is filled to the brim with references and call-backs to Batman stories of old that even some of the most die-hard Bat fanatics aren’t fully read up on. Do yourself a favor and take a look at this great article sometime and be amazed that even with all that information, you’re still really just scratching the surface of the wonderful multitude of things that are built upon, and part of, Morrison’s story.
Batman has been exposed to hallucinogenic drug compounds numerous times throughout the canon and Morrison is the first one to take that small, plot device/contrivance and push it into the psychological makeup of the character. Bringing it into the “real world” so to speak – for it stands to reason that if one continually trips balls – then one eventually transcends the banalities of perception, reality and awareness. Batman’s amazingly badass need to mentally train himself; to exhaustively learn the deepest secrets from some of the most clandestine and difficult spiritual teachers in the world – even going so far as to practice “Thogal” (an utterly obscure Buddhist meditation ritual which simulates death) just so he can control himself, control his mind, body and “soul” to understand, just a teensy bit more about the minds of the mad villains he regularly faces off against, really pushes the character to new heights. To wit:
To look deeper and deeper into what lies beyond that which is perceived through rational consciousness is the hallmark of a true seer – and let’s be honest, Grant Morrison is one kooky dude in real life – whether or not he is a legitimate “seer” remains to be seen, or is simply too semantic of a concept to prove or disprove – but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t all work beautifully when Morrison projects these kookier aspects of his personality onto a character such as Batman (which he does with surprising subtlety and restraint I might add). We’re strung along for most of this arc being led to wonder if Batman truly has lost his mind; finally cracked under all the constant pressure he is under, or if he is indeed not only in full control, but an absolute master of his mind in every conceivable way, rational and irrational. Morrison manages to bring a myriad of these strange plot points and ideas together while still weaving an airtight mystery narrative throughout several books and years. This is master story telling we’re witness to here, so by god Grant, please, continue to let your freak flag fly.
Because the real question at the end of the day is – even if you’re not paying strict attention to all these different facets of the story going on both on and off the page, does the story itself still pay off for the casual reader? At least in purely badass moment terms? You better believe it, I mean, this is a story arc where Batman defeats and army of NINJA MAN-BATS, cuts out one of his own teeth with a knife, manages to avoid being poisoned by a Tibetan master – and in turn poisons him… Morrison even successfully re-introduces Bat-Mite (Bat-might, here) and manages to do so in a way which makes the silly, throw away gimmick from the silver age jump off the page like an otherworldly and surreal Twin Peaks character.
But throughout all the brilliant insanity packed into this run, the culmination, the payoff (before he fights his way back through time and survives being killed by a god!) is that even after having a subliminal trigger phase implanted into his subconscious years ago by his now antagonist, Dr. Hurt, he manages to circumvent brainwashing by having prepared a back-up personality. YES. A “back-up human operating system” as he describes it.
But not only that – after he has successfully comes back from the brink of death and total insanity due to the intense strain put on his psyche, he digs himself out of his own grave just to defeat the bad guys.
And sweet jesus, don’t even get me started about what he goes through to “return” – just know that once he does, he smacks everyone into place and saves the goddamn day like only the Goddamned Batman can. You see, the breathing exercises, the meditation practices, the indefatigable mental and physical training – it’s all for this, it’s all to make sure he can decipher the depravity of the brilliantly insane criminal minds and the death traps he faces on a daily basis, for as he says: “If I don’t know all this stuff, if I miss a twist, if I can’t ‘match wits’ with any one of a dozen deeply disturbed, brilliant sadists, someone could die.” … after all, the victory is in the preparation.
But that’s the thing about Batman.
Batman thinks of everything.
Seriously though, there are so many moments in this grand arc of Morrison’s that deserve a place on this list that it drives me crazy just trying to count them all… suffice it to say, if you want some badass Batman then the best modern examples can definitely be found in Grant Morrison’s Batman work, starting with his haunting Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, continuing to his Legends of the Dark Knight run and of course reaching a mad crescendo on what may well be his mainstream comics masterwork; Batman: Rot In Purgatory.
That’s all folks!
I’ll do a follow up list in a week or so, listing all the runners up which I left off this list for one silly reason or another – otherwise… goodbye the Batman I grew up with, I’ll miss you! But I’m sure the talented writers still at DC will make you proud and uphold your high standards.
Thanks for reading.
Awesome read. I’ve read alot of this stuff, and can’t wait to read the rest!
Awesome – thanks!
I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I do not know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already ;) Cheers!
Thanks! See you soon.
Pingback: Page not found « Comics Astonish
Pingback: A Reader’s Guide To Grant Morrison’s Batman « Comics Astonish
Ok, I’m a newbie, big time. I don’t know where Batman arcs start and finish. I tried reading R.I.P. but it didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. Then I realized I don’t even know where the Morrison arcs start. Can someone please tell me chronologically [publishing order] what Morrison books to read? i really want to read all those story arcs. Any help much appreciated. Thanks.
” I mean, he tosses Flass the goddamned bat, man…”
Well played Sir,well played…
Coincidentally, I was reading “Batman : Year One” yesterday (for the umpteenth time) and when I saw Gordon tossing the baseball bat, I visibly “Ah”ed.. Whattay moment! I’m addicted to “Year One” more than any, but only less than Batman :-)
“JLA : New World Order” is another epic. I also love the last panel in the “The Tower of Label” – the absence of Batman in the room, leaving the team dumbfounded.. That’s badass even without Batman in the panel!
Hells yes. All great stuff. Thanks for stopping by.